A moving memoir of the passage through life of a father and son, each facing tremendous difficulties.
The title is hyperbolic, perhaps, but LaRossa Jr. makes a good case for the gladiatorial nature of the courtroom. His father, known as Jimmy LaRossa (1931-2014), was a criminal defense attorney who took on cases for “the most feared Mafia chiefs, assassins, counterfeiters, Orthodox Jewish money launderers, defrocked politicians of every stripe, and Arab bankers arriving in the dead of night in their private jets.” By his son’s reckoning, over a long career, Jimmy argued at nearly 1,000 jury trials and won 80% of them. He adds, “did Jimmy know where the bodies were buried? Yes, he did.” The author, who became a journalist and publisher, writes admiringly of the fact that his father, the scourge of the FBI and despiser of stool pigeons, stayed alive for all those years of engagement with mob bosses and henchmen with names like “The German” and “Wild Bill,” foot soldiers for the Colombo and Gambino families. One case found him disqualifying evidence provided by a member of a rival gang, who, Jimmy argued, “had committed murders while on the FBI’s payroll.” Eventually, however, Jimmy fell victim to pulmonary disease, prompting his son to move his father from New York to California, where Jimmy spent the last few years of his life. The author, for his part, has suffered through long bouts of mental illness, self-medicating with alcohol while diligently seeking appropriate and effective treatment. He credits taking care of his father in his last years as a lifesaver: “Until he allowed me to take charge of his life, I was as lost as a man can be.” Though the writing is sometimes clichéd—“My father was my true north, so I bought into his exuberance lock, stock, and barrel. My three siblings…had other fish to fry”—the story is affecting.
Readers going through the illness and passing of a parent, to say nothing of true-crime buffs, will find much of value.